"Docent" lecture: Social Computing - Usage as design

Kristina Höök, Ph.D.

7th of December, 2001, 2 pm
Lecture room: room A, floor 5, Forum building, Isafjordsgatan 39, Kista


How can we empower people to find, choose between, and make use of the multitude of computer-, net-based- and embedded services that surround us? How can we turn human-computer interaction into a more social experience? How can we design for dynamic change of system functionality based on how the systems are used? Tackling these issues is the core of the work in the research the Social Computing theme in the HUMLE laboratory has undertaken during the last 5 years. Our solutions are inspired by observing that much of the information seeking in everyday life is performed through watching, following, and talking to other people - what we name social computing.

Unfortunately, in most computer applications, we cannot see others, there are no normative behaviours that we can watch and imitate. We walk around in empty spaces that very well might not have been visited by anyone else before us for as for as we know. In our word processor, we might be lost for hours with no guidance whatsoever. On the web, there is no-one else around to tell us how to find what we are looking for, or even where the search engine is, there might very well be lots of services that we badly need, but that no-one tells us of, and once we find a service, we do not know how to interact with it, nor whether it can be trusted. The prevailing computer interaction as if people were only work-oriented, objective, emotionally void, entities.

In social computing there is a strong temporal and dynamic aspect. A person chooses to follow a particular path in the forest because she makes the assumption that people have walked it earlier. Forest paths are transient features in the environment; if they are not used they vanish. Their state (how well-worn they are) can indicate how frequently or recently they have been used, which is typically not possible with a road.

We see therefore that social navigation relies on the way that people occupy and transform spaces, leaving their marks upon them - turning a "space" into a "place" in the terminology of Harrison and Dourish (1996). In time, the social cues they leave behind can become sedimented and formalised, transformed into social practices (such as letting people get off the train before you get on), rules and regulations (such as those governing driving) or artefacts (such as signs and landmarks). Social computing, in the sense of our individual actions being designed around collective social behaviour, is not just something that is "layered on top of" a space, but comes to transform both the space and the ways that people act within it. Thus "usage" becomes the way design evolves.

Everybody is most welcome! No registration necessary.

Afterwards (if I get approved) you are welcome to join me in the HUMLE Salongen at SICS (Electrum-building, floor 6, B-elevator, Isafjordsgatan 22) for some snacks. Send me an email if you want to join: kia.

Address SICS, Box 1263, S-164 28 Kista, Sweden
Tel +46 8 633 15 14 or +46 18 471 70 40
Mob +46 70 561 70 35 , Fax +46 8 751 7230
E-mail kia@sics.se, URL http://www.sics.se/~kia